Anorexia and Its Metaphors
This article highlights questions about a number of popularly held beliefs regarding anorexia nervosa. The beliefs this article addresses include that it is a ‘disease’ caused by socio-cultural pressures on women to be excessively thin or self-effacing; and that in the post-war period the problem has increased to the level of an epidemic. Using the influential insights offered by cultural critic Susan Sontag’s consideration of ‘illness as metaphor’, the article examines the ways in which these beliefs are culturally constructed through metaphorical thinking. Without discounting the socio-cultural explanations for the increased diagnosis of anorexia, it suggests that the breaking down of these powerful metaphors would be constructive in order to achieve a more measured cultural view of the problem. Drawing on key publications from the last 50 years, contemporary press reports and historical research on anorexia I argue that the myths surrounding the disorder confer on it a potency that is out of proportion to its cultural importance.
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